Is Dating in Your First Year of Recovery Smart?

Making big decisions your first year of recovery can have very negative effects

If you want to create havoc at a AA or NA group meeting, simply bring up the topic of dating in the first year of recovery. Watch the opinions begin flaring!

Why is dating in your first of recovery such a hot topic at group recovery meetings? After all, there’s not s single mention of this in any of the AA or NA big books. So, what’s the big deal? And, where did this unwritten rule originate from?

Turns out there’s a few unwritten “first year of recovery rules” that didn’t seem to ever make it into the literature. Here are just a few:

  • Go to 90 meetings in 90 days
  • You can’t chair a meeting until you have 90 days
  • You can’t sponsor someone until you have a year
  • Don’t make any big decisions
  • Don’t date, get married, get divorced, move or change jobs

Who created these rules and how/why have they become part of group recovery culture?

I did a ton of research (3 minutes of Google searching) and could not find any history on these rules. I can only assume they were “suggestions” given by respected people who had many years of recovery. Somehow, these rules become unwritten guidelines for group recovery.

Avoid Making Big Decisions Your First Year of Recovery

Let’s Look at the Possible Benefits of These Unwritten Recovery Rules

My first year of recovery was all of 2014. My sobriety date is January 9, 2014, and when I joined I can say I was absolutely willing to take every suggestion given to me if it meant I would stop abusing prescription pills. My bottom was just that – It was the lowest point in my life times 10. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and who was at the center of all these catastrophes? Me, that’s who.

“AA is the last thing I tried and the only thing that worked.”

With no one else and nothing else to blame for my then extremely shitty life, I joined AA, even though drugs were my demon, not alcohol. I chose AA instead of NA because I had been told by people with long-term sobriety that AA meetings offered better, longer, and more consistent recovery than NA meetings.

Remember – “I was absolutely willing to take every suggestion given to me if it meant I would stop abusing prescription pills”.

The first words of advice I remember hearing at an AA meeting was, “keep coming back”. Trust me, I was planning on coming back, if not sleeping in the parking lot to make sure I didn’t miss a meeting. Then, after I introduced myself for the very first time as a “addict / alcoholic”, I was given my second piece of advice: “Be sure to do 90 meetings in 90 days”.

And so I did. In fact, I went to one meeting a day for 179 consecutive days. I was taking this group recovery stuff dead-seriously because I knew the alternative – I was going to lose my job, my family, my home and everything else in my life if I didn’t find a long-term solution to my pill problem.

AA is the last thing I tried and the only thing that worked. It has worked since January 9, 2014, so I’m going to keep going.

I was married when I joined AA and things were not good at home. My wife was at her end with me, and justifiably so. I had crossed so many lines in order to get my pills every day, no one wanted to be around me. I still cared for my family, wanted to keep working, wanted to keep my house, but pills were the #1 priority. Nothing got in the way of me getting my pills, and sadly there were never enough. I am lucky I didn’t have enough money to go overboard back then, because if I had I would have spent every dollar buying pills on the street.

The third piece of advice I learned in AA was “don’t make any big changes or decisions your first year of recovery”.

In my case, there really weren’t any to make. It was kind of “do or die” and I chose to “do”.

Watching Others Make Mistakes Their First Year of Recovery

I’m not judging by saying that I’ve witnessed other people make silly mistakes their first year of recovery. I’ve seen people make the same mistakes over and over, and have also seen the results of their actions.

People Having Affairs
I’ve witnessed at least three affairs since being in AA. In every case, at least one if not both participants were married. In all three cases I can remember it ended with all parties involved eventually relapsing. Most of the time people relapsed after having an affair for one main reason: Their recovery meeting became more about seeing the other person than it did about recovery. In one case I was sponsoring a married man who got into an affair just 3 weeks after joining recovery. He immediately felt guilt and remorse, but the thrill of having an affair made it difficult to stop, which is typical addictive behavior.

First year in recovery mistakesPeople Meet Their First Year of Recovery and Get Married
I’ve seen two examples of this in the first year of recovery. One couple is still married after three years and appear to be very happy. The other couple were divorced within a year of getting married. The wife relapsed, while the husband barely held on. Both couples believed they had met the perfect partner – someone who understands their recovery.

Managing Money
For me, everything about me changed in my first year of recovery. I realized I had been asleep all my life, trying to fill a void with money, stuff, sex, food, drugs, alcohol, etc. when what I really needed was a relationship with a higher power. When I realized this and began praying and meditating, suddenly having a bunch of money and “more stuff” became very unimportant to me. I’ve since learned there’s a balance, and it’s okay to have some things, but material possessions should never be the primary goal in life. That was at the core of my pill chasing – thinking I needed to buy more stuff. Things like a larger house, better car, more money, better vacations, etc

“the best use of money was to eliminate debt so that I didn’t have to worry about it anymore”

I eventually realized that money could be a tool toward gaining freedom, and the best use of money was not to buy more things, it was to eliminate debt so that I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. My income didn’t change – My spending habits changed. I suddenly needed a lot less to be happy. What eventually changed for me is I was no longer living paycheck to paycheck which led to me realizing what I really wanted was to eliminate debt so I wouldn’t have to think about money anymore, which meant (you guessed it) not buying so much stuff.

Moves and Career Changes
For the most part, I have to agree with the overall theme of not making big changes the first year of recovery. However, there are situations where big changes are actually necessary to sobriety. Here’s one example: I sponsored a younger man who was married. He and his wife worked in order to sustain their lifestyle. They needed two full-time incomes to pay for their home, vehicles and two children.  The husband made about 60% of their income, so his job was critical to their survival.

There was just one problem. He worked as the manager at a restaurant/bar that was notorious for being “the place to go if looking for ecstasy, adderall and cocaine”. Not to mention, there was plenty of alcohol flowing every night. As manager, his job was literally to make sure patrons were having a nice evening which often meant sitting down with regulars and having a drink with them. After a drink or two things like cocaine and/or adderall would start sounding good, and many nights he wouldn’t get home until 4am, just two hours before his wife was getting up to feed the children, get them off to school and go to work.

The good news is he was able to make a career change and went into sales. His income dropped temporarily, but is now much higher than it was at the restaurant. The bad news is, his wife was unable to forgive him for the many years of neglect, alcohol and drug abuse. They ended up getting a divorce.

In Closing
I think it’s a good rule of thumb to let your first year of recovery be all about your recovery and not much else. People change, like a lot, in their first year of recovery. In many cases our brain goes through a big change of chemicals resetting. We start looking at the things we did that don’t make us happy, and then realizing the truly important things in life that do make us happy. I still can’t believe I’m saying this, but helping other people is one of the most gratifying experiences in life, something I would never have thought prior to recovery. And, it was in my first year of recovery that this brand-new ideal set-in for me.

Your first year of recovery is also a great time to think about the rest of your life, and begin planning a new way to living it. Just taking the time to think before taking action (instead of taking action and THEN thinking about it) was a rather new way of living for me. Something I had to learn the hard way.

If I were new in recovery, I’d definitely consider not making any big decisions for a year. I promise, it will be worth it in the end.

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